NREL: Floating Wind Could Be California’s Next Rush

The construction of floating offshore wind farms in California over the near- to long-term could contribute to economic development in the US West Coast state, especially if significant portions of equipment and services were procured locally, according to a report by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The report, Floating Offshore Wind in California: Gross Potential for Jobs and Economic Impacts from Two Future Scenarios, analyzes two hypothetical, large-scale deployment scenarios for California: 16 GW of offshore wind by 2050, and 10 GW of offshore wind by 2050.

According to the report, offshore wind projects could support nearly 6,000 long-term California operations-phase jobs by the year 2050 in the 16 GW scenario, or nearly 3,000 jobs in the 10 GW scenario.

Cumulative GDP impacts are estimated to be USD 39.7 billion or USD 16.2 billion for the construction phases and USD 7.9 billion or USD 3.5 billion in the operations phases for the 16 GW and the 10 GW scenario, respectively, according to the report.

Higher levels of spending by developers and operators within California could result in greater gross economic impacts. Improvements in technologies, manufacturing processes, and O&M practices, as well as policy changes and growth in domestic and international markets, among other factors, could significantly impact the development of offshore wind projects in California.

Given its offshore wind resources, potential for port development, and diverse economy—including a robust energy sector—there is strong potential for employment and economic activity from the construction and operation of new offshore wind projects in California, NREL said in the analysis.

California has the technical wind energy resource potential to power at least 100 GW off of its coast. The state’s offshore wind resource is especially strong in the northern part of the state.

California also has infrastructure assets that could be attractive to project developers. For example, existing ports could potentially be leveraged for existing grid interconnections or other operations.

Construction of the first offshore wind farm in the United States began in 2015, using fixed platform structures that are appropriate for shallow seafloors, like those located off of the East Coast and mid-Atlantic. However, floating platforms, which have yet to be deployed commercially, will likely need to anchor to the deeper seafloor if deployed off of the West Coast, NREL said.

Offshore wind technology for deep water is still in the prototype development stages. However, NREL estimates that 95% of the technical resource area off the coast of California is over waters with depths that exceed 60-meters, and it is not feasible to use proven fixed bottom offshore wind platform technologies at most sites.